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Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

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Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

Play is a child’s job. Have you ever noticed how focused a child can become during their play that they ignore instructions and voices of the adults? They are so finely tuned into their play because it is nature’s way of helping the child develop and mature in a manner that is appealing to a child. They don’t want to be taught how to be a doctor at age 5 by a parent sitting them down and explaining the duties and role of the family physician. The child would rather pretend to be a doctor and have a doll or stuffed animal as their patient, as they go about examining their pretend patient.

Play is a way for them to practice real life scenarios in a safe way. It also allows for the creative flow of thoughts and ideas. These are essential to the healthy development of the child. Parents who have a hard time letting go of their kids to allow unstructured play time need to recognize that these activities are actually assisting in their emotional and cognitive development.

Read my previous article about The Endless Battle Between School Works and Play for Children if you haven’t realized how kids’ creativity are being murdered these days.

Play can bring greater benefits than any scheduled activities

Play is their work. It is their time to process life through imaginative actions, and to build them into emotionally stronger people. The benefits of creative play should not be discounted or minimized.

Creative play has a multitude of benefits for children including:

  • Greater sense of self worth
  • Problem solving skills
  • Personal growth and learning
  • Increase in creative thought processes (creativity builds upon creativity)
  • Increase in emotional stability (children use play to work through complex issues)
  • Leadership abilities
  • Cognitive skills
  • Communication skills (as they play with other children and express themselves)

Don’t rob your kids of the benefits of creative play by having them busy all the time in scheduled activities. Allow time for them to play and be a child.

A subtle action can murder an innocent creative play

There are things that a parent or caregiver can inadvertently do that will kill a child’s abilities to flourish creatively in that moment. Below are just some of the things that can harm or inhibit creative play.

Hovering

When adults hoover over their children during play time, the children are aware of their presence. It inhibits their ability to play, as many children will limit their actions based on what they believe the adult will like or dislike in their actions. The child becomes attuned to accommodating the hovering by playing according to positive reactions from their caregiver.

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This can also be conversely true as well. Meaning that the child may play in a way that seeks out negative attention from the hovering caregiver. Either way, the hovering is not beneficial in the long run, as it is stifling the child’s ability to be creative without the direct scrutiny of an adult.

Pressure to perform

Children need to be able to play without feeling that they are performing. They don’t need to create something meaningful like a rehearsed puppet show or a quality piece of artwork to be creative.

Often, creativity is built over time. They need time, space, and freedom from pressure to be creative. Sometimes, nothing is created and that is fine too. The purpose is to allow them to be creative on their own and in their own element, so pressure must not be placed on them. Pressure does not help creativity flow for children. Instead it creates stress and negative emotions that inhibit creativity.

Control

Allow the child to do their own thing. If you are constantly saying “why don’t you do things this way” or “how about you do this…”, then you are trying to control the creative play.

Most children will eventually decide what and how they want to go about doing something. They don’t need interference. Even if it is the wrong way. As long as it is not harmful to them, then it is a creative experience that should teach them to do things differently next time. They will learn on their own using their own abilities than the controlling prodding from an adult.

Competition

There is plenty of competition for kids in this world and for the life ahead of them. Parents and adults do not need to make play time competitive, because for many kids this puts them off. They just want to participate with other children and enjoy the fun. They don’t want to be the loser in a competition.

If kids create their own competition in play, then that’s fine. It is not helpful for adults to intervene and force competitive situations in the play. It becomes real work when competition is put into the mix. It can suppress a child’s ability to be creative, as they are more focused on the competition at hand that allowing their natural creativity to abound.

Let the kids lead the play

Parents should allow for the child to lead the play, as this is allowing them to be the source of the creativity. Parents and adults can supply the materials needed and then let the child or children play using their own thoughts on how to proceed with the playtime. If parents get too involved or provide too much direction they inhibit the child’s creativity and self expression. Allowing the child space and time to play without specific instructions is exactly what children need to flourish in their creative element (provided that they are safe first and foremost).

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Below are some ways that you can encourage your child in free play. Allowing your child to do these things will stimulate their creative thought processes. It will also help their development emotionally and mentally.

1. Art

Provide your child with crayons, paints, paper, markers, empty boxes, and more and you will see them express their creativity. You don’t need to tell them what to draw or how to create art. They have their own ideas. If you want to be involved in the art then encourage their play by providing them with positive verbal cues as they play.

For example, as your daughter paints a piece of artwork and suddenly takes a bright red paint and splatters it all over their artwork, don’t tell her she is ruining her artwork. Instead comment on their creative choices. Praise their ability to know what they want and that they go and do it with confidence.

It is also ok to simply provide them with the supplies to create art and allow them the opportunity to create on their own. If you are concerned about mess, then cover the table and floor below the child with newspaper, paper towels, or other disposable materials and have them put on one of your old t-shirts. Be less concerned with the mess and more concerned with the child being able to freely create the art.

2. Outdoor exploration

Get outside and explore with your child. Something as simple as a bug box or binoculars can bring lots of creative ideas to the child. Allow the child to take the lead on what they want to discover that moment in nature or how they want to play. The great outdoors is a wonderful natural setting for play and imaginative activities to happen.

    3. Pretending adulthood

    One way that children play that helps them imagine how it will be to a grown up is through pretend play. When your children play adult scenarios such as, school (one child is the teacher and the others are students in a make believe classroom), doctor (they are doctors and perform surgeries and examinations on dolls or stuffed animals), or house (the kids pretend to be a family and they create home life situations to play out), they are imagining what it would be like to do these things in real life. They are playing through their reality of what can or may happen as adults in these scenarios. It is a way for them to safely express themselves and practice what it will be like to someday be an adult.

    4. Building

    Blocks, Legos, gear building sets, and other toys that allow children to build something are great for initiating creative and imaginative play. They must built to create something, therefore using their own skills of creativity and ingenuity. They are the architect, the construction crew, and the designer all in one. They plan, execute, and then enjoy the fruits of their labor when the project is complete.

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    There is great joy and self-worth attained when children build things. It isn’t just imaginative play, it is learning to start a project and complete it for the sake of their own satisfaction. Their self-motivation can be honed in on during building play time.

    Once again, parents can provide the materials and then let the child determine the course of the building, along with the execution. It is ok to help along the way if they ask for help, but allow them to direct you on what you should be doing in their project. That way they have the sense of being in control of their project and they are taking a leadership role in accomplishing the task at hand. It is empowering for the child and helps them to become stronger emotionally and mentally.

    5. Toys that facilitate creativity

    Play Doh, tinker toys, and the like facilitate creative play in children because they are creating somethings using these toys. These toys can be much like art and building combined. They allow the child to create freely from scratch. They can determine what to make and how to go about completion of what they want to make. They are utilizing great creative and innovative skills when allowed the space and freedom to plan and complete a project on their own.

    For example, a child can decide that they want to make a miniature town out of Play Doh. They get to decide how to create the buildings, where to place them, how big to make them, etc. They then get to execute and this involves trial and error. They learn to problem solve things such as the trees not standing up on their own, so they must create conifer trees only to support the weight of the Play Doh. They will revel in their success of completing their little town and feel proud of their accomplishment.

    It is more than just play, it is building life skills and developing problem solving skills that carry into adulthood.

      6. Physical activity

      Kids need physical activity. This is why they rarely sit still. They need to be moving physically all throughout the day, as this is the way children are made. They are physical creatures with an abundance of energy that is meant to be used for their benefit in the maturation process. When they play physically, especially with other children, they are often engaging in creative play.

      For example, they may chase one another and create imaginative games about good guys needing to capture the bad guys. They will create playtime activities on their own that involve physical play when they are allowed that freedom and enough physical space to move around.

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      Outdoors is the best place to allow them to be physically creative. It is also a great time for leadership skills to be developed. The child who is simply bossy will not attract other kids at play time. However, the child who has good leadership skills can attract other kids to play in their activity and can lead the way in the play.

      Creative physical play time is also beneficial to their physical well being since they are getting exercise while they are playing.

      Allow kids to be kids

      The Pediatrics Journal cites a variety of reasons that contribute to the reduction of play in society today,[1]

      …variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play.

      Parents need to be cognizant of their family lifestyle and schedule to ensure that their children are allowed to have time to be children. This means allowing them time to play freely which provides the opportunity for their creativity to blossom.

      Keeping children too busy and too structured is proving detrimental to their development in the long run. Their creativity, which is an important skill unlocks the gate for many valuable skills and traits children will need in adulthood, will be hindered.

      Featured photo credit: Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Dr. Magdalena Battles

      A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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      Published on August 26, 2021

      How to Get Kids to Listen And Respect You

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      How to Get Kids to Listen And Respect You

      Do your kids listen to you the first time you ask them to do something? If not, then you may have to keep reading. Kids will truly listen when there is mutual respect between you and them. They will listen to you when they know that when you say something, you mean it.

      Here are ten tips on how to get your kids to listen and respect you.

      1. Show Mutual Respect

      You can get kids to listen by demanding authority and ruling with an iron fist, but at what cost? You can yell and scream your kids into submission and obedience, but at what cost? The cost will be your relationship with your child in the long run, as resentments will form in them.

      If you don’t show respect for your kids, it is going to be hard to get them to listen to you. They may obey, but if you act as a tyrant who demands that kids do what you say because you are the one in charge, then you are fighting a losing battle. The basis of your relationship must begin with respect. Mutual respect is the foundation for any relationship, including the parent-child relationship.

      2. Avoid Yelling

      When yelling and dominance are the themes of the relationship, then an undercurrent of resentment will develop in the child. Nobody wants to feel dominated, nor do they want to feel that they are of less value than another person.

      Let your child know that you value them through respectful interactions. You are still the parent, but you can parent and get your kids to listen through respectful interaction. When you use demanding, authoritarian parenting methods, you are undermining your relationship with the child and resentments are likely to form.

      Avoid yelling to gain respect from your child. If you fall back to yelling, screaming, and making demands, then you are undermining your ability to gain your child’s respect in the long run.

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      3. Use the Golden Rule

      Respect is founded on the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. If you want your child to respect you, you must also treat them with respect. This means talking to your child in a tone that is kind, genuine, and considerate. Granted, this is not easy when your four-year-old is having a meltdown in aisle 5 of the grocery store and you have many more errands to run, work to do, and no extra time on hand. It takes practice to parent without yelling and heightened emotions.

      We are still people and get mad at our kids. However, we have to keep in mind that they are learning and we have far more years of practice at these things. We must keep our cool and maintain authority while parenting.

      How do you want to be talked to when you are having a bad day and feel like melting down? That is how you should talk to your child who is having a meltdown and is obviously having a bad day. Kindness, love, and respect, when paired with authority, will create a relationship where your child will listen and respect you. Treat them as you want to be treated.

      4. Ensure that Your Words Have Consequences

      We know that mutual respect is the first step to getting our kids to listen. This respect will help them be open to what we have to say. If they feel that they matter because you respect them, then they will develop respect for you. This will help when it comes to disciplining your child.

      The second step is ensuring that our words have consequences. When it comes to discipline, your words must have weight. If you say you are going to do something, you must do it.

      For example, if you ask your child to stop hitting the couch while you are typing an article for Lifehack and they keep hitting it, then let them know that if they don’t stop, they get a five-minute time-out. True story, this just happened. He stopped. Why did he stop? Because he knew I meant what I said. If he didn’t stop, he knew it would mean an immediate time out, not an additional warning and more time to carry on with the behavior that I asked him to stop.

      I asked in a calm voice while looking into his eyes, letting him know I was serious. He also knows that I mean what I say because he is now seven years old and has experienced consistent follow-through with punishments for years. I don’t ask the same thing several times. I also don’t make threats. I follow through with reasonable punishments when the instructions and requests are not followed by my child.

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      5. Avoid Big Threats

      I have seen parents make big threats, thinking that the bigger the threat, the more the child is likely to stop the behavior. This is not reasonable, nor is it a good idea. Big threats that you don’t follow through with make your words meaningless.

      For example, if I had told my son that I was going to throw away his toys if he didn’t stop hitting the couch, that would have been unreasonable. Throwing away toys that cost a bit of money to buy as a consequence of a small infraction (hitting the couch while I am typing) is unreasonable. If he kept hitting the couch, what would I do? It would be unrealistic to actually throw away the toys.

      Therefore, many parents in this instance keep making the same threat with no actual follow-through. The threats continue because the behavior continues and even escalates (i.e. the couch hitting gets louder and harder) and finally, the parent must throw away the toys and/or resorts to a different punishment to stop the escalation.

      The escalation could have been avoided by stating realistic consequences and following through the first time. Time-outs and taking away a toy or a privilege are all reasonable. I often take away my kid’s tablet time or give five-minute time-outs as a consequence. I avoid making big threats that I cannot follow through with in good conscience. It helps me in the long run because when I give reasonable consequences, I can easily follow through with the punishment at that moment and not feel terrible.

      Avoid making big threats that you cannot follow through with in good conscience. Instead, provide consequences with warnings and ensure that the punishment is worthy of the behavior. Small infractions should get small consequences. Big infractions require more serious consequences. Don’t make a habit of making big threats of big consequences that you can’t actually enforce.

      6. Follow Through

      A method of parenting where a parent follows through with their consequences immediately is called the “one ask approach.” In this method, a parent asks their child only once to do something. If they don’t do it, then the parent provides a consequence if they don’t do as asked.

      For example, if you ask your child to put their dishes in the sink but they don’t get up and start doing the task, then the parent can let the child know the consequence if they don’t follow through with what was asked. If they don’t put away their dishes, they are going to lose half an hour of their TV time. They don’t get three warnings or even two. One warning is all that is provided. If they don’t follow instructions, then the consequence is dealt out.

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      In this example, if the child doesn’t put away their dishes after the warning is provided, then the parent follows through and says “I am sorry, but now you lost half of your TV time for tonight.” The parent must then not allow the child to watch TV and can suggest reading books or playing outside instead. This method will help you parent with consistency.

      7. Give Them Your Full Attention

      When you are speaking to your child look them in the eye and give them your full attention. This approach is much more fruitful in getting your child to listen than distracted, partial attention.

      Case in point: if a parent is playing a game on their phone and yells across the room to have their child go do their homework, the interaction is less meaningful than making a face-to-face request. If the parent sets down their phone and walks over to their child and looks in their child’s eyes and says, “it is time to stop watching tv for now and do your homework, you can watch after your homework is finished,” it is much more likely to be fruitful because full attention is provided.

      Giving your child your full attention with eye contact and face-to-face interactions shows them that you care and you are serious about what you are saying. This will go a long way toward getting your child to listen and respond to what you have to say.

      8. Show Genuine Care

      Showing that you care is immensely meaningful to any child. Your child needs to know that you care about them. Your words, actions, and tone of voice show that you care. If you care, be sure to show it.

      For example, if I want my kids to set the table for dinner, yelling at them saying “you know its time for dinner, you should have set the table five minutes ago” will not be as productive as making a caring statement. Such a caring statement could be “you do a great job setting the dinner table. It is so nice to work together, with me making the meal and you setting the table so we can enjoy time together each night. Can you set the table in the next twenty minutes before dinner?”

      Showing your child that you care will help build a positive relationship, and your child will be more likely to listen and respect you. Your words and actions in your daily interaction will show that you genuinely care for your child.

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      9. Show Them That You Value Them

      Giving your child your full attention also shows them that you care and that they are valued. Everyone wants to feel valued. Our children should always feel that we value them.

      Some ways that you can give your child attention and show that they are valued include the following:

      • Praise your child.
      • Give physical affections, such as hugs.
      • Show interest in their activities.
      • Get on their level when talking.
      • Make eye contact and smile while interacting.
      • Give positive feedback in your daily interactions.
      • Provide them with support in accomplishing daily activities (i.e. help your child tie their shoes and teach them at the same time as they are learning this task).
      • Build up your child with positive messages.
      • Reassure your child when they are fearful.
      • Support your child when they are upset.
      • Make time to spend with your child one on one daily.
      • Respond to your child every time they talk to you (do not ignore them).
      • Ask your child about their day with meaningful, open-ended questions.

      According to the article, Positive Attention and Your Child,[1]

      “From birth, children need experiences and relationships that show them they’re valued, capable human beings who bring pleasure to others. Positive attention, reactions and responses from key grown-ups help children build a picture of how valued they are.”

      Children must be told and shown that they are valued. What we say and how we act toward our children should be done in a way that makes them consistently feel valued. This will help build a relationship where listening and respect go both ways.

      10. Be a Good Role Model

      To get your kids to listen and respect you, then you must also be a good role model worthy of respect. Kids watch their parents and caregivers and thus, will imitate their behavior.

      Case in point: if you consistently object to figures of authority and do not follow rules or laws, then your child is observing and learning this from you. They will learn that they do not need to listen to or respect authority figures. Be an example that teaches your child to listen and respect others by your own behaviors and modeling.

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      The Bottom Line

      The bottom line to teaching kids to listen and respect you is to treat them with respect and follow through with consequences. Your words must have weight, and this only happens when you are consistent with your follow-through. Treating your child with love, respect, care, and affection is important to creating a relationship where they want to listen to you and mutually respect you.

      More Parenting Tips

      Featured photo credit: Tanaphong Toochinda via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] raisingchildren.net.au: Positive attention and your child

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